This is the beginning of a novel that I started writing with my mentor during our sessions. The main character is a seventeen-year-old Colombian girl who just arrived in America in the 1920s, having lost both of her parents in a shipwreck.
“Where are you taking me?” Katerina asked the officer who was guiding her through a hallway that never seemed to end.
She was full of fright. The previous night’s events kept replaying in her head. Katerina was alone, but it hadn’t always been like this. She had come on a long journey with her mom and dad, but it wasn’t their fate to step onto the soil of America together. Katerina remembered the way her mom screamed as the ship pulled her and her father down into the ocean. Katerina was already on a safe boat when she witnessed both of her parents die before her eyes. And to think, she probably would have her mom with her right now if it weren’t for love that made her mom sacrifice her life for her husband.
“You will stay here until you get a trial with the immigration officer,” the officer said. He opened a door to reveal a small room that only fit a metal toilet, a small window that let in very light, and a bed that looked like it was made out of bricks. Not to mention the smell; it smelled like piss and seawater. Katerina could feel the tears threatening to come. Was this her life now?
“Quiet, quiet!” demanded the man who held the fate of Katerina in his hand. Her own hands were shaking underneath the table from where she sat in the courtroom.
“I looked over your case, Miss. Jones,” the judge said to her. He reminded her of one of the homeless men that she used to see on the streets in Colombia. He had a black expression, his beard covered his mouth, and she saw no emotion through his eyes. “And I’ve decided to send you back to Colombia. You are a seventeen-year-old child who has no one to support you. You should be grateful you actually made it this far.” His voice was laced with judgment.
Katerina could feel her lips trembling from fear and desperation. She blinked repeatedly to stop the tears from falling, but no matter how strong she tried to be, she couldn’t hold it together.
“Please sir!” The words came before Katerina had time to think of what she was saying. “I promise you that I can make something up myself. I can work in the textile mills, just please don’t send me back! Things back in Colombia are bad.”
“My decision has been made,” he said. “Now you are wasting time from other cases. You are dismissed. Get your bag ready, you will be sailing out on the first ship out.”
An officer appeared next to Katerina and began to lead her out of the courtroom. Katerina gave the judge one last look before she reluctantly followed. Suddenly, a light switch of an idea came on in her head.
“Sir,” she said quietly to the officer. “Sir, please help me. The judge was wrong. There is someone here who can support me.” She needed someone to listen.
“I’m sorry, miss,” he said. “I would love to help you, trust me, but if I don’t get you on the boat I can lose my job. My family depends on me.” Unlike the previous officer she’d dealt with, this one seemed as though he actually cared.
“Please,” she repeated. “I have a telephone number. You can call this man, he is rich, he can help me! He is practically my uncle. Please sir, you have to help me. If you don’t, you would basically be sending me to my death.” She knew that the man standing in front of her was her last hope.
He had stopped for a moment outside of the courtroom. They were alone in the long, empty hallway. He looked her over carefully.
‘’You aren’t lying?” he asked.
“No, of course not! Why would I lie about something that can easily be proven?”
He frowned. “What is the name of the man, the you say can help you?”
“His name is Ernest,” Katerina said. “Ernest Hunt.”
The officer looked at Katerina like she had two heads! He glanced over her outfit, her raggedy clothes that were torn and dirty and still smelled of sea water, her long and tangled hair.
“Ernest Hunt is one of the richest men in New York,” he said with a huff. “How do you know him?”
“He is my — he was my father’s best friend.” The pain in her chest came back as the wall she had carefully built around her heart began to crumble.
“You don’t need to worry about that,” the officer said. “One of his offices is near the pier I pass by on my way home. I’ll do what I can, but you must obey the rules and do whatever they tell you to. I’m one of the good guys, but not all are like me. You seem like a strong girl. You remind me of my own daughter, which is why I’m helping you, but I really hope you aren’t lying. For your sake and mine. My job is on the line.”
Ana is a Class of 2017 mentee alum from New Jersey.